Fresh from releasing the excellent Crystal Castles III, the Canadian roll into town at the end of their UK tour with a fearsome reputation as a live act preceding them.
Unfortunately, Glaswegian rockers are already being rushed off stage when SI arrives at the venue at 7:45 tonight and the rapidly swelling crowd are instead treated to a set from female DJ trio Pretty Ugly. It should be pretty much impossible to spin the likes of Le Tigre’s ‘’ and ‘Paper Planes’ by MIA and not get arms in the air, yet maybe it’s the raised lights or the black clad nature of the gig itself but appendages stay resolutely pinned to sides. ‘My Delirium’ manages four hands, two of which are attached to the same body (mine). After Pretty Ugly vanish (preferably without a trace) the house DJ’s decide to treat us to the complete back catalogue of Wu Tang Clan, which without inherently being a bad decision sits rather awkwardly with a mostly teenage, white and Scottish crowd; all of whom look fairly unlikely to have first-hand experience of New York gang life. The headliners are elusive though, and leaving almost an hour before taking the stage raises a couple of boos from the crowd.
When the lights finally dim however, chaos duly ensues as Crystal Castles ensnare Glasgow in their dark grasp. Opening with the evil one-two of ‘Plague’ and ‘Baptism’, Alice Glass and Ethan Kath unleash the gates of sonic hell upon a sell-out crowd of gig-goers, triggering a mess of flailing limbs and enthusiastic pogoing. Charisma and attitude undoubtedly win out over vocal talent for Alice Glass. She’s a menacing, magnetic presence and when she stands astride a sea of hands, mouthing ‘I love you’ to adoring hordes it’s as if she’s a vampire drawing strength from the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd. Far from the druggy vibe of this summer’s live footage tonight she looks focused and energetic, throwing herself around the stage and twirling her microphone out into the crowd as Ethan disappears in clouds of thick smoke.
Drenched in blue light she purrs through a monstrous ‘Black Panther’ backed by Ethan’s electronic arsenal of synths n’ tricks and a live drummer. Debut single ‘Alice Practice’ is a formidable statement of intent but even live the chorus is too awkward and un-danceable to make you move your feet. If anything it’s like being dropped into an angry and disorientating Gameboy game. Amidst an hour and a quarter of craziness the duo drop in tracks from all three albums but special cheers seem reserved for the colossal synth-rave of ‘Sad Eyes’ and ‘Wrath of God’ from Crystal Castles III. As possibly the only tracks on which Alice’s voice can be heard clearly, they may yet mark a path towards an increased emphasis on melody over crashing beats and ear-piercing sirens.
Everything you’ve heard about Crystal Castles being an electro-gig with the vibe of a punk show is almost vindicated by the attack of ‘Crime Wave’ or the drops of ‘Pale Flesh’ though the twisted, distorted thump of ‘Insulin’ is only for those who liked CC best when they sounded like a toaster going through an existential crisis. Even if you remain unconvinced by the raw old-school synth attack of their records, live Crystal Castles are a thrilling prospect.